Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Those of you who know me (Gretchen) know that I'm a to-do list person. Very early on in ministry, my supervisor taught me how to set manageable & measurable goals on a yearly, monthly, weekly & daily basis, how to use a planner, how to manage my time, and many other wonderful skills. I certainly have not perfected any of these, but I do love my to-do list.

If you stopped by our home in Michigan before our move, you would've seen a huge bright green poster board on our wall. That was our pre-move TO-DO list.

I love the thrill of creating a list and the joy of crossing something off. It's a measurable way to see if my day has been 'successful' and gives me purpose and guides how I spend my time each day. I am certainly guilty of adding things to my lists after their already done, just so I can cross one more thing off. Anyone with me on that? I KNOW I'm not alone...
Being in Africa, I've been told by numerous people to have only ONE goal for your day. ONE. Not a long  to-do list for each day, just ONE goal. ONE thing to accomplish. ONE task to manage.
You may be thinking, "But Gretchen, you don't have a 'job', Isaac is in school every day, the girls still nap, you have a gardener & house worker (which is another post altogether!) to do all your yard work, laundry, dishes, etc. Can't you accomplish more in a day than just one task?"
Good question.
Let me give you the an example of a 'one-task day' that my friend recently had. She dropped her husband & kids off at school just after 7am and then had one goal for the day, which seemed simple: find 'mince' (hamburger/ground beef).
Well, for starters, she had been to the 'big' grocery store a few days prior and could not find it there, which is not uncommon. Some days they have a product, other days you can't find it anywhere. The selection changes daily. So, with that option already out, she spent her day going to three different butchers. Three different butchers does not sound that time-consuming or difficult, right?
The thing is, we don't have the yellow pages here. Or the ability to google "Butchers in Dar" with much success. You find them by asking around to friends or by seeing one randomly as you drive by (not knowing how clean/sanitary/fresh it is). And when you do find a butcher that looks decent, you can't guarantee what they'll have. And you need to be sure to know how to say what you're looking for in Swahili, because there is a chance they won't speak English ("ninaomba nyama ya ng'ombe"). And if you don't know how to say it, you have to find someone to help you translate, because we all know google translate isn't always accurate. And you have to be ready to get stuck in traffic, depending on the time of day. And if you get stuck in traffic, you need to be prepared with a cold bag or something to keep the meat in.
So, my dear friend went to three butchers. She did not find any mince. That meant she had to change her dinner plan for the evening. Dinner plans already take quite a bit of time, due to obviously finding all the ingredients you need, hoping the power is on to cook (though we have a gas stove  - not everyone does) or that the power hasn't gone out recently spoiling your food, & cooking everything from scratch. Good thing you can always fall back on PB&J!

This is just one example of how one-goal can take a majority of a day here. I could give countless other examples!
I am learning, though very slowly, what it looks like to "be" instead of always feeling like I need to "do". It's been a significant transition for me from working/ministry for the last 11 years to now figuring out my role and purpose here. It's honestly been a little bit of an identity crisis. My ministry shaped so much of who I was/am, but I'm no longer a youth pastor. So, who am I? I can't identify myself by what I'm doing to the same extent I could before.  I can't fill my days with to-do lists to feel a sense of accomplishment or worth - I'd fail every time! I think that's a good thing. I recognize that I've been a bit of a Martha instead of a Mary (Luke 10).
So, pray for me as I learn how to slow down, sit at the feet of Jesus and enjoy what he is teaching me and showing me. I'm learning how to be more present with my girls as I have the privilege of being with them each day. I'm learning how to support others in their areas of ministry through prayer. I'm learning from so many wise people here - about faith, ministry, culture, expectation. I'm learning how NOT to jump into every opportunity for ministry (DO), but to seek the Lord and wait on him (BE). I'm learning how to support Marc in his huge task as a Bible teacher at HOPAC. I'm learning how to laugh at myself as I make mistakes. I'm learning how to be okay with accomplishing one thing a day instead of ten, and being more prayerful about how I spend my time.
This is a new season. A season of being.
I am excited to DO - please don't get me wrong. And when I'm honest, I feel slightly guilty for not doing more right now. I feel like I owe it to those of you supporting us to show results, fruit, proof of the usefulness of your sacrificial giving. It will come. I know the Lord has called not only Marc to TZ, but me too. I know he has ministry in store for me. I'll let you know when He reveals to me what it is. In the meantime, I appreciate your prayers during this new season of my faith and life.

So, my one goal today, the one thing I hope to 'do'? Go to the local coffee roaster to buy more coffee. Becasue lets be real - not many other goals or tasks can even be accomplished when you're out of coffee!
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
Psalm 73:28
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46:10

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Boxes are Growing!

As a a teacher and parent, I’m always on the lookout for “teachable moments,” situations that I can seize and allow my students or my children to learn a valuable lesson.  Admittedly, I miss more of these than I catch!  And it goes without saying that I’m...more comfortable being on the giving end of those lessons and not the receiving end!

As we have become increasingly acclimatized here in Dar, as a new school year has begun, I have tried to keep a list in my mind of things and lessons that I’m learning.  I don’t confess to having fully laid hold of these lessons, but here’s a brief snapshot into my thoughts and feelings, ways that my "boxes" or categories or paradigms are growing, being shifted, maturing, crumbling, etc.  Disclaimer: These are my personal perceptions/reactions and may be right or wrong; please be gracious to me as I’m learning and have not yet “arrived.” :)
1.  Patience.  I’m probably...scratch that...I am the most impatient person I know.  My wife will attest to this fleshly attribute.  The first step is admitting you have a problem...and I do and Africa is FULL of opportunities to work on being patient.  Prior to living here, this was one thing that absolutely terrified me.  I honestly thought I would have more...altercations...in traffic than I have actually had: 0.  My road rage has been much less here than back home...and traffic is decidedly worse here.

Another part of life here is that most things involve a process.  Example: I began my vehicle registration process about three weeks ago.  Something that would require a 30 minute - 3 hour wait at the DMV back home takes much, much longer here.  Of course, money (read: bribes) greases the wheels,  but in general, it’s just S-L-O-W.  Another example: “stuff” is just hard to find.  There are no box stores, no DIY stores.  I should change the oil in the van...but I don’t have the slightest idea where to go to find parts.  Not only that, but me changing my own oil is a sort of unwritten “No-no.”  Why wouldn’t I pay to have someone do that for me? Am I being stingy with all of my piles of American money? You see, the expectation is that I would pay someone to do even the smallest chore for me...even though I brought a few of my own tools and I really enjoy doing this sort of work myself.  It really has nothing to do with being cheap.  However, my impoverished community, where I could find 20 men to change my oil for $3 + parts, don’t quite see it that way.  And most likely I’d have to travel into town to find a filter and oil.  And then I’d get stuck in traffic.  And probably be given opportunities to lose my temper.

2.  Church.  You’ve probably seen via FaceBook that Gretchen and I have been attending God’s Tribe church.  It is a brand new church plant here in Dar.  Its principle founders are Kelvin and Belinda Massingham and Sheshi and Trudi Kaniki.  They both hail from “Safrica.” (South Africa said with a S.A. Accent! :) ).  Sheshi is a teacher at HOPAC (A-level Economics).  My absolute first experience with him was observing him from across the room singing: both arms in the air, eyes closed, full body engaged in worship.  I had a delightful conversation with him over lunch and was invited to his church.  All of my presuppositions flared up: here was an African, charismatic, quirky-named church, preacher guy - what could go wrong?!  My initial interest level was about a “3” on a 1-10 scale.  A couple of weeks later, I got a text from friends saying they were going to check out Sheshi’s church and did we want to go. “I guess,” was my half-hearted reply.  I was honestly terrified of the spectacle we were sure to have to endure.

How absolutely wrong I was.

Instead, my brother got up to preach and five minutes into his message talked about God choosing to save dead people, which we all were until Christ’s death and resurrection brought us to life and reconciled us to our Father.  My presuppositions got punched in the face with the Gospel.  I sat through the sermon with tears on the edges of my eyes.

The church would best be described as “Charismatic Reformed.” I get about half of that; you figure out which half.  But it’s charismatic in its church planting-ness (they're the best in the business, so to speak) and Reformed in theology.  So they have energetic prayer times, ones that as a conservative, white, West Michigan Dutch guy, I have a tendency to feel a bit...awkward at.  I kind of feel like everyone at the office came dressed up in costumes for Halloween and I showed up in my regular suit-n-tie, you know, just a wee bit awkward! Basically, I just haven’t yet become comfortable talking while others are praying.  There is a lot of verbalized agreement when others pray. :)

I’m humbled and I’m learning. My “Church” box has been re-shuffled and re-shaped a bit. I just heard someone say “Yes Lord!” :D

3.  Prayer and Spiritual Warfare.  I’m learning to pray.  In the last trimester of the 2012-2013 school year at Western Michigan Christian HS, I taught a 10th grade Bible class on the Gospels.  One thing I learned in that class and during that trimester is the great privilege and blessing I was given every day to pray with and for my students. I started putting forth a little bit more effort to pray.

I’m not very good at praying.  I feel like when I do pray, I do it okay. I just don’t do it very often.  I’ve prayed a lot more lately than I probably ever have and I still don’t feel like I’m doing it enough.  And not just praying to ask for things, but in praise and in intercession.

Part of growing in prayer has come with a growing awareness of spiritual warfare.  I’ve always had a cautious take on spiritual warfare, I mean, if we talk about it then it might happen, right? Wrong.  It’s already happening despite my efforts to remain ignorant.  It is something that I believe gets exploited because it’s easy, low-hanging spiritual fruit.  I don’t buy the whole, “I put my watch on the table, came back and it was GONE! The devil wanted me to be late so he prevented me from finding my timepiece” kind of stuff.  However, it’s quite clear that people here have had spiritual warfare experiences and attacks.  I have a history of kidney stones, but having one come on in full force as I’m driving up to school for the first day is a bit too coincidental for even me, the spiritual warfare skeptic.

I’ve prayed more for spiritual protection for myself and my family and my friends than I have ever done, ever.  Again, I’m not good at it, but I’m learning.

4.  Legacy.  At Haven of Peace, I have the awesome opportunity and responsibility of following a great Bible teacher, Gil Medina.  He created both a pastoral and academic atmosphere in the Bible Department.  He developed a high standard, worked with integrity, and a passion to see students come to Christ.  He has set a lavish Feast Table with the Main Course and all of the dinnerware; I’m just hoping that I don’t come along and spill my tiny tray of desserts.  Because of Gil’s hard work, the Bible teacher position bears a level of responsibility and respect, it just comes - built in - to the position.  It’s rare to find in most high school academic departments, let alone the Bible department.  Again, I’m humbled and privileged to be a small part of this good work for God’s glory and the benefit of my students.

There’s plenty of learning to be done here: learning what side of the road to drive on, for instance.  Learning the conversion rate from US dollars to Tanzanian schillings is another.  And while I’m learning these facts of life, I’m aware of some character traits that are also experiencing a bit of a growth spurt.